In Which The New York Times Discovers TPO

March 23rd, 2006 · No Comments
by Booksquare

Ah, prestige. So lovely, so heart-warming, so not likely to pay the bills. We will admit that if it weren’t for the higher royalties, we wouldn’t get the desire to publish in hardcover. After all, we count among our acquaintances only one soul who refuses to touch paperback books; everyone else is quite happy to read the printed word in any format. Naturally, we will not name names (Cathy) as that would be rude.

So a year or two after the fact, the New York Times (we are going to miss Edward Wyatt when he’s gone) takes a look at the shift of publishers from hardcover to trade paperback and why. We find ourselves bemused by the notion that publishers are newly willing to forego the higher profit margin that hardback provides — possibly because the next sentence or so contains a phrase that includes “[w]hen you’re taking back 50 to 70 percent of the hardcover copies you shipped”, though in reference to unknown authors specifically. Given the ratio of bestselling authors to not-so-bestelling authors, one must assume there are a lot more returns than hits.

Naturally, there’s the consumer perspective to consider as well (that’s the fault with prestige, if a fault can be found, never considering the consumer):

“It has been more of an evolution than a big jump,” said Jane von Mehren, publisher of trade paperbacks at Random House. “Getting somebody to spend $22 on a book by an author who they’ve never heard of is hard, but getting them to spend $13.95 on a paperback is much easier.”

The article includes a paragraph that discusses this lovely notion; we won’t spoil the surprise, but suffice to say there are percentages involved. And a rather odd notion: hardcover makes approximately double that of paperback on a per book basis, yet:

“Book for book, you’re obviously going to make more money on a hardcover,” said Martin Asher, the editor in chief of Vintage/Anchor Books, part of Random House’s Knopf Publishing Group. “But you can usually sell two or more paperbacks for every hardcover, and when you bring in the question of building an audience for a new writer,” the scale tips further in the paperback original’s favor.

Yes, the two paperback would equal the one hardcover. The “more” would exceed the one hardcover. It seems all those delightful percentages increase as well; however, the overall cost of overhead will remain the same. Unless someone gets a seriously massive raise, and that can be avoided by not allowing your book to be released around common review time. Or when a glamorous new executive is hired.

Finally, we get to the nut, as they say, of the matter: reviews. Reviewers are perceived as biased toward hardcover. Yeah, probably. But, let’s be frank, how many consumers buy on the basis of reviews? It could be argued that the review is more for the author and publisher egos than a guide for potential readers.

We say let go of hardcover envy and enjoy the freedom of paperback (heck, let yourself go wild and look at the crazy world of mass market paperback even — you’ll be surprised what kind of people hang out there).

[tags]New York Times, books, publishers, Edward Wyatt, hardcover, paperback[/tags]

File Under: The Business of Publishing